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Pro Arte: Schubert, Webern, Dvorak

Schubert: Quartet in E-Flat Major, D. 87
Webern: Langsamer Satz
Dvorak: Quartet in D Minor, Op. 34

Pro Arte Quartet
David Perry, violin
Suzanne Beia, violin
Sally Chisholm, viola
Parry Karp, cello


In its first outing of the current UW Faculty Concert Series season, the Pro Arte Quartet offered a fascinating program of unusual pieces, including a delightful work by the 16-year-old Franz Schubert, a pre-atonal movement by Anton Webern and -- the first time any of the group's members had played it -- a seldom-heard quartet by Anton Dvorak. An audience of about 400 was on hand, their enthusiastic applause indicating evident delight with the performances, which were exemplary. There was even an encore, somewhat unusual for chamber-music concerts, a charming song setting by Dvorak.

Schubert's Quartet in E-Flat Major, D. 87 (1813) seems far too sophisticated and mature to have been written by one so young. Though it does not reveal the full blaze of the composer's later harmonic lights, it is from the first measure utterly warm and congenial music. The very brief scherzo, with its strongly contrasting trio section, gives way to an adagio that if anything surpasses the opening allegro moderato in loveliness. The concluding movement, marked allegro but more nearly a presto, alternates smoothness with agitation, a relatively benign Sturm punctuated by not that much Drang.

Though he is known now as the jeweler in the three-pronged crown of 12-tone music that comprises Schoenberg, Berg and himself, Webern's all too short catalog of works begins with the 1905 Langsamer Satz -- it means "slow movement" -- a heavenly expressive 11-minute gem of extended chromaticism a little reminiscent of his contemporary Richard Strauss, always reaching for more height in its long harmonic arches. The fullness and warmth of its sound and the delicacy of its instrumentation are irresistible.

Entirely new to my ears, Dvorak's Quartet in D Minor, Op. 34 (1877) is dedicated to Johannes Brahms, and appropriately reflects that composer's harmonic vigor and orchestrational panache. But it retains the Bohemian traits that strongly permeate nearly all works of Dvorak, especially in its second movement, allergretto scherzando (alla polka). As wonderful as the outer movements are, it's the sublime adagio that takes your breath away for sheer beauty.

The Pro Arte's ensemble -- in the most general sense of the idea -- is remarkable. The players have coalesced their four strong musical personalities into a single instrument now, putting their performances at the level of true mastery. Their next major effort will be the six quartets of Bartok, presented in two concerts on a single day, 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., at the Union Theater on Nov. 21. That is absolutely not to be missed.

Isthmus, September, 1998
Copyright 1998 Jess Anderson

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